By Ed Shineman
Welcome to your new sales leadership job. You know you can’t sit on your hands – but you don’t want to do anything stupid. Here are 5 “do-no-harm” actions you must take if you want to hit the ground running.
1. Don’t risk a major account jumping ship. Take this key customer retention action immediately.
Perhaps the worst blow a new sales leader will experience is a surprise defection by a major account. Prevent this by scheduling a get-acquainted in-person or web conference visit with the key decision-maker at your top 3-5 accounts together with the assigned rep.
Before the visit ask your rep to brief you about key customer business priorities and how your firm is contributing to customer success. In particular, inquire what led the customer to choose you. Once you’re face to face with the customer, ask them the very same questions.
If the customer confirms your rep’s assessment, there’s good reason to believe the account is secure. If there’s a major disconnect, you’ll want to immediately implement a damage control plan. In the event there’s a major disconnect but the customer seems delighted, don’t let your guard down. Things could go downhill fast. Also, this almost certainly means you are missing out on untapped potential.
2. Do customers confide in your salespeople as trusted business partners? Here’s how to find out fast.
Every sales leader will tell you their sales reps take a customer-centric, value-selling approach. Truth is, few do. Want proof? Think about the salespeople who call on you. Do they go all out to understand and align with your mission-critical goals? Or do they traffic in small talk and technical information easily discovered on their web site?
Don’t assume your sales reps are any different. Use your key account joint calls to kill two birds with one stone. If your small sample reveals that the salespeople assigned to your top accounts are not seen as true business partners, chances are your entire force is suspect. Down the road this has implications for the type of training your reps receive, even the type of people you hire.
In fact, you may ultimately want to consider an organization-wide sales talent audit to measure your peoples’ sales DNA and ensure you have the right folks in the right sales roles. However, stay tuned for something even more powerful you can do immediately to address dysfunctional sales call behavior.
3. How to immediately validate your sales pipeline to ensure it’s not made of pipe dreams.
If you sell high ticket solutions to large customers, you’re looking at a long sales cycle. So it could take 90-120 days, even more, to discover whether forecasted front-log items turn into real revenue. Don’t wait. Here’s how to inspect and verify your pipeline well before a surprise shortfall torpedoes your credibility.
Begin by scheduling front-log reviews with each of your sales units. Insist that individual reps attend these reviews and be prepared to speak to their own front log without mediation from their sales manager. As reps run down their front-log items, pick one account and ask the 4th question.
Most salespeople are fast enough on their feet to ad lib responses to questions that are 3 levels deep. So don’t just ask who the competition is, inquire:
- Why does the client prefer us to the competition?
- What does the competitor offer that we don’t?
- If you were the competitor, how would you launch a counter-strike?
- What about internal competition; how might the customer address their need without going outside?
- What are the consequences to the client of doing nothing?
- What other customer priorities are competing for investment?
- If there’s a budget shortfall, what makes you think our project will make the cut?
Other deep-dive opportunities include whether the rep really understands the account decision-making process, and the way budget funds are approved and released, etc.
No doubt reps will see this as an interrogation and their managers will feel you’ve usurped their authority. But you’ll discover whether reps are really in tune with their accounts and whether you can really bank on the pipeline report.
4. Do this before you even think about replacing poor-performing sales reps.
Worse case, you’ve discovered that your sales reps have a tenuous relationship with customers and a wrongheaded idea of customer needs and purchase intentions. Should you put them all on notice? Send them to some sort of sales boot camp? Nope.
Your sales organization is only as good as your front-line sales managers and FLSMs should be your first priority.
Discuss with each FLSM any dysfunction you’ve observed on their team and determine:
- Was the FLSM guilty of a random or misguided rep recruiting and selection effort?
- Does the FLSM engage in regular field coaching to reinforce sales call best practices?
- Does the FLSM even know what a model sales call should look like?
- Is the FLSM a micromanager who should never have been promoted out of a territory assignment?
- Is the FLSM open-minded and supportive of necessary change?
After conducting a fair and thorough assessment of your FLSMs, you’ll need to make a hard call concerning which individuals have the potential to contribute to your transformation effort and which ones need to be reassigned or replaced. For those who remain, pronounce sales coaching as their No. 1 responsibility and sales call quality as the primary measure of their effectiveness. Then, establish observable benchmarks on how a value-creating salesperson should behave on a call.
Why not begin by imposing stretch revenue achievement mileposts and holding FLSMs’ feet to the fire? Because revenue production is nothing more than a down-the-road result of sales call quality. And sales call quality is something you and your FLSMs can address in the here-and-now.
5. Don’t let the forces of sales prevention stymie your leadership efforts.
No sales team that is pulled in 1,001 directions can focus on Job One. You need to create space for your people to sell and for you to understand and justify other near-term potential demands on their time. What are we talking about?
Sales Ops wants a week to re-skill your people in a new CRM system you haven’t had time to review or approve. Product Management wants to launch a sales contest on a slow-selling product you’re worried would result in diverting your salespeople in a lost cause. Marketing wants your people charged up in recruiting customers to attend a new webinar series that you’re skeptical will lead to any business.
Enough already! Don’t postpone decisions that must be made. Explain to your peers that you need a window to evaluate your people in performing Job One. Call a 90-day time out on initiatives that have the potential to needlessly distract your salespeople from calling on customers.
- 5 actions every new sales leader must take in their first 30 days - March 11, 2021